Vardavar: Celebrating an Armenian Water Festival
If you’re Armenian, you might have remembered a great excuse to drench your siblings, relatives and friends with water on an unbearably hot summer day. Although at the time, you couldn’t believe your parents were actually allowing you to soak other people, while getting dripping yet yourself, this Armenian festival known as “Vardavar” has a richer history than just summer time fun.
Typically celebrated around 14 weeks after Easter, Vardavar’s origins can be traced to pagan times, where it was associated with the goddess of water, love and fertility – Astghik.
The etymology of the word “Vardavar” stems from “vard” meaning “rose” in Armenian. The explanations for the rose connection are quite varied.
To replicate Astghik’s bathing, people would sprinkle each other with rose water and hold a special festival of roses during this joyful feast, the Armenian Church writes.
Others, such as an article on Aboyvan has a different explanation.
According to legend, her beloved Vahagn (another Armenian pagan god) was once injured in a struggle with evil. She rushed barefoot to his aid. On the way, she hurt her feet while treading over the roses and her blood turned them red. This is how red roses came into being: the flower of love was born. She had her temple, where young and old alike would go on pilgrimage to praise her, sing songs, and offer bouquets of flowers and other gifts.
On the other hand, Anaheet was the goddess of “purity, kindness, nurturing, temperance, fertility, wealth, and fullness”. She was identified with water, as a cleansing and purifying agent. In the ancient Hittite language “ooard” meant “water” and “ar” – “to wash”. These were related to Anaheet’s celebration.
During Vartavar, rules of social etiquette are thrown out the window, as people of all ages are allowed to douse others, even strangers with water. Some might use hoses, others get creative and pour buckets of water from balconies on unsuspecting and surprised passer-bys.
The event is also celebrated amongst the Armenian diaspora all over the world. It’s an interesting meeting of cultural pagan rituals that has been meshed with Christian tradition.
Not to be left behind, even the virtual Armenian network was abuzz over the holiday.
“Yerevan is celebrating Vardavar, everybody waters each other, no matter you want it or not. Gonna stay at home today till evening!” said Twitter user 517design.
Others seemed to be excited and intent on participating.
“The last day of Golden Apricot IFF and Vartavar!!! Will be throwing water on everyone tomorrow the whole day” said mbarseghyan, whose sentiments were echoed by broadwyhereicum in Philadelphia: “Vartavar! Time to soak some strangers on the street!”
“Tomorrow is an Armenian holiday where u get to wet people with water hoses and stuff like that , so much fun!” wrote edith1206 while YoMinelyG already experienced the wrath of Vardavar: “Today is Armenian waterfight day. I was sleeping and my cousin’s wife dumped it all over me lol”
Below is video that came out of the celebration today in Armenia, followed by one posted in 2007 from Australian-Armenians from the Bible Study Youth Group in Sydney.
More photos from this Vardvar set can be found on Oneworld Multimedia